These days a lot of people say they “live on the Web” - checking sports scores, reading online newspapers, downloading music and videos, and so forth.
Now, people are also dying on the Web. At least their funerals are being streamed online in increasing numbers, as a convenience to distant families, friends and fans.
Farewell Webcasts for international celebrities are quite common. Michael Jackson’s and Whitney Houston’s memorial services were seen by millions online.
But services for ordinary folks are being watched as well.
Several companies are training funeral homes in video techniques and providing them with the software to produce Webcasts of their ceremonies.
A company called FuneralOne in Michigan helped mortuaries stream more than 1,000 Webcast funerals in 2010. And it sells DVD digital recordings of memorial services as well.
Jesse Jackson, singer Michael Jackson, and Al Sharpton were seen around the world as they mourned singer James Brown at his funeral in 2009. A few months later, Jackson’s own memorial service would attract an even larger online audience.
“We are in a YouTube society now,” Joseph Joachim IV, founder of FuneralOne, told the Associated Press.
The “memorial casts” allow even casual friends of the deceased, who would not spend the time or money to travel great distances to pay their respects, to tune in.
For instance, Ronald Rich, a firefighter in North Carolina, called the mother of a friend who had just died and told her that he could not make the funeral because of a snowstorm in the nearby mountains. The mother told him that the funeral would be streamed live on the Web.
“It was comforting to me,” Rich said, adding that he planned to watch the service a second time with other firefighters.
The online-funeral idea has been slow to develop in an industry that values solemnity, etiquette, and privacy. Families that would like to make a loved one’s funeral available online - but don’t really want to open it to the world - can send an access code and password to those who knew and cared for the deceased.
They could be halfway across America - or halfway around the world.